Diaghilev Gala – Les Saisons Russes du XXI Siecle: London Coliseum, 13 July 2014

Turning the colour up to 11

Shoot that poison arrow through my art. Three Polovtsian's take a bow for Saisons Russes. Photo by Elena Lapin

Shoot that poison arrow through my art. Three Polovtsian’s take a bow for Saisons Russes. Photo by Elena Lapin

In its continuing mission to promote the work of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev in their original forms, Les Saisons Russes du XXI Siecle closed their London 2014 season with a hugely entertaining gala.

Orientalist stereotypes aside Scheherazade is a glam ballet with colours bright enough to knock your eyes out. Mariinsky principal Julia Makhalina took on the role of Zobeida with a cool assurance and beautiful arms. Sadly Artem Yachmennikov, her Golden Slave, seemed a bit dispirited (perhaps it was a deliberate injection of realism into the role…) and consequently the chemistry never really flowed between them for the crucial pas de deux that forms the backbone of the work. However, with Oleg Fomin lording it up as Shahriyar and Ekaterina Zaitseva, Anna Markova and Julia Perepelitsa’s sultry pink concubines dancing with dignified panache the time still romped by.

With a finite numbers of Diaghilev works available to him, it must be difficult for the company’s director Andris Liepa to find fresh approaches to his shows. This season saw the introduction of a re-creation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ballet-opera for children Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel). After a wonderfully passionate telling of the synopsis from Liepa himself this gala saw the frankly bizarre final act.

With dancers acting out the roles being sung (very well) live on stage, the male and female chorus’ piled up on either side of the stage and all sorts of serfs, weird creatures and court members roaming about, the stage was a jam-packed riot of colour and frenetic movement. The acting/dancing was hammy to the extreme but the whole thing was performed with such gusto that it couldn’t but help find its way into your heart.

After a lovely but curiously dispassionate Dying Swan from Julia Makhalina the Polovtsian Dances roared into action. A product of its time, the ballet itself is a bit of a mess although Maxim Pavlov was lively as the bow-twanging head Polovtsian. The real stars of this one were the orchestra and chorus who belted out the famous rollicking music to deafening levels. It was also great to see the ballet include its opening aria to help give some context as to where it sits in the original opera, Borodin’s Prince Igor.

It’s great to see that what could be something of a dry academic exercise of recreating the past has been turned into such a visually spectacular show, full of energy and life. A special word must also go to Alevtina Ioffe and her orchestra who were excellent throughout.

Gerard Davis

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